SNP president Michael Russell has argued there is “no reason” why Nicola Sturgeon shouldn’t say she “detests” the Tories as he defended the First Minister from Conservative fury.

Russell, the director of the SNP’s Independence Unit and former constitution secretary, was speaking exclusively to The National at the SNP conference.

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On Sunday morning the First Minister sparked a political row when she explained why she’d prefer a Labour government to a Tory one.

She told the BBC journalist: “I detest the Tories.

“If the question to me is would I prefer a Labour government over a Tory government – I detest the Tories and everything they stand for – so it’s not difficult to answer that question.”

In the wake of the exchange, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi said the language was “really dangerous”.

Conservative MP Andrew Bowie also attacked the First Minister for her choice of words, responding: “Good to see the language of respectful disagreement being demonstrated here.

“Btw, how’s that plan to win over 2014 No voters going?”

Meanwhile, former Scottish Conservative chief Ruth Davidson (below) said the First Minister’s language would “other and traduce a quarter of the Scottish voting population”. She also attacked Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson for saying he is “focused on making Scotland a Tory-free country”.

The National: Ruth Davidson

Speaking amid the row, Russell told The National: “You can always rely on the media to seize on something.

“I think what [Nicola’s] saying is very, very clear. The Tories were not elected by us, we have an unelected government. We have a Tory leadership that won’t even speak to her, we see the appalling right-wing policies that led to complete financial chaos next week. What is there not to detest in that?

“I don’t think there’s individual Tories I detest – I know a lot of Tories. But the reality is, I detest what they’ve done to Scotland. And I particularly detest the fact that they will not allow the people of Scotland to choose their own future. That is detestable in those terms, and I see no reason why it should not be said.”

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Channel 4 journalist Ciaran Jenkins caught up with the First Minister later in the day to ask her about the remark.

Sturgeon replied: “I was referring to Tory policies and values that do a lot of damage.”

Asked if she regretted her choice of words, Sturgeon replied: “No.”

Earlier, Russell gave a speech updating delegates on Scotland’s journey to independence. It comes ahead of the start of the Supreme Court hearing on whether the Scottish Parliament can legally hold indyref2 without Westminster’s permission.

Russell told delegates: “If the Supreme Court rules in our favour, then [indyref2] will be on October 19 next year.

“And if the Supreme Court fails the people of Scotland, then we will rise to that challenge too, and put our case at the next general election, whenever that is.

“That’s a choice that has to be made if Scotland is to escape from the downward spiral of Tory and Labour governments exploiting but ignoring Scotland.”

On Sunday, he will also present the president’s prize to recognise a successful party campaigner.